I have a line I say occasionally to viewers or readers who submit complaints believing that my work falls on one side or another of a partisan issue: “As long as I keep getting complaints from both sides, I know I’m as close to neutral as humanly possible.”
When I say this, it is because I do believe that every comment deserves a response. But I also say this knowing that the tongue-in-cheek nature of that sentence might not appease someone who is already upset with me.
I suppose that I just can’t help feeling insulted by their initial allegation.
Perhaps — in this age 24-hour networks and online tabloids spewing either garbage, vitriol or both — consumers are unable to believe in my journalistic integrity? Perhaps they find it hard to believe any journalist can have integrity?
Or, maybe they feel so strongly that they find it hard to understand how another person might put those feelings aside in pursuit of being a professional?
This comes up today because of an article I wrote fact-checking an overseas tabloid that published a very popular article containing unsupported claims about a link between legalized marijuana and reduced crime in Colorado. After checking available crime data for myself, and presenting that to the audience, I concluded that the so-called data in the tabloid is either “unavailable or inconclusive,” and I invited users to prove me wrong.
So far, none have.
One response, however, evoked in me the feelings that fuel my current wild keystrokes. Out of respect I shall not reprint the consumer’s name or message, but it can be summarized as a list of people or groups that advocate for his particular views.
It also contained this line: “We oppose the proliferation and commercializations of Marijuana!”
And this one (which is interesting because they were not the author of the story I was fact-checking): “The lies and deception put out by the Marijuana Industry Group are flabbergasting!”
Given the philosophies I’ve expressed above, I felt I had to respond to make sure he understood my perspective. I wrote:
“Thank you for your kind words about my work.
“Normally I would have waited until business hours tomorrow to reply, but something about your note struck me as a possible misunderstanding that I wanted to discuss right away.
“I am concerned that you may believe I wrote this because I am on one side of the marijuana debate, but that would be an error. I am neither pro-marijuana nor anti-marijuana and I believe I took great care to make that clear in my article. As a professional I take extreme pride in putting my own opinions aside when I set out to write a piece about marijuana, just as I would for a story about partisan politics or criminal allegations.
“I would be delighted to receive your news tips in the future, but I must assure you and every reader or viewer that they would be subject to the same level of scrutiny.
“Please don’t take this the wrong way, I genuinely love hearing the feedback, but I also want to make sure you understand where I am coming from. Starting with that understanding, any of your suggestions can be fairly considered now and in the future.
“Have a very happy new year.”